‘I’m so sorry’: The perils of video in the meme age
When the Liberal Democrats announced their massive u-turn on their tuition fees policy, leader Nick Clegg – no doubt ushered by his PR team – took to the internet to apologise publicly for breaking their promise (points for embracing social media, at least).
Inevitably, the online community was quick to bite back, turning his laboured, cringe-inducing plea for forgiveness into a series of parody videos. We’ve seen clips mashed up with South Park’s episode on the BP oil spill, clips subtitled for honesty (where “That was a mistake” becomes “That was a lie”) and the reigning champion in the share stakes, the autotuned version:
Of course, Clegg’s is not the first video to have been given the parody treatment. Greenpeace – famed for their parody savagery – ripped Dove’s ‘Onslaught’ commercial to pieces by creating a mirroring video on the subject of palm oil.
The famous Mac vs PC adverts have been redone time and time again – often to Apple’s detriment – and even the UK’s merciless anti-piracy clips got the parody treatment in British comedy show The IT Crowd.
Video is a powerful medium, and there is no end of creative individuals that will work it to their advantage, whether that is politically motivated or just for laughs. Should brands and organizations avoid it in contentious situations, then?
Tricky one. The likes of Dove and Apple rely on advertising, so it’s a risk they have to take (although you’d think Dove would have seen the potential danger in a video titled ‘Onslaught’). Politicians, meanwhile, must try to reach a range of audiences. Increasingly, the majority of their audiences are internet users, so to avert the risk of being labelled tech dinosaurs that’s where they have to go.
Of course, it’s worth noting that meme culture is more than adept at making something out of nothing. The Mitt Romney / Slim Shady parody that did the rounds some months back is comprised of a number of video clips – mostly from news broadcasts. So deliberately avoiding the medium of video in an attempt to stave off negative repercussions is a futile exercise.
And besides, it’s a two-way street. By putting a political message into the social sphere government PR people can measure its reach and effectiveness.
But you don’t need to be a spin doctor to gauge how Clegg’s mea culpa is working out.